Testimony on House Bill 1397

To: House Political Subdivisions CommitteeFrom: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1397 (County Zoning and Farm Practices)
Date: January 27, 1999

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am Christopher Dodson, the executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference. The North Dakota Catholic Conference opposes House Bill 1397.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference is concerned about the future of farming in North Dakota. This is why last November the North Dakota Catholic bishops issued a joint statement on the matter of rural life. In that statement the bishops called for policies consistent with the principle of subsidiarity. This principle recognizes that human dignity requires that persons and communities should possess the ability to exercise responsible self-governance. Subsidiarity means that while larger governments have a role and sometimes a duty to involve themselves in local affairs, they should give deference and due respect to local communities. Specifically applying the principle of subsidiarity to rural issues, the bishops stated that local communities should be allowed to enact land use ordinances to further the common good. House Bill 1397 violates that principle by stripping counties of their rightful position to regulate for the common good of the larger community.

We realize that the purpose of the bill is to assist farming. For several reasons, however, is not an appropriate way to accomplish that goal. First, the approach rests on the false assumption that all farming practices are equal with respect to their effects on the community and the environment. This simply is not true and we need only to look at the environmental and social problems in other states to realize that some agricultural practices operate in a manner contrary to the common good and good stewardship of creation.

Second, the bill embraces a mistaken view of property. Property rights are important, but they are not absolute. All property is held in what the Pope has called a "social mortgage." That means that no one, including farmers, has a right to do whatever they want with their property. All exercise over property is subject to the common good, the need to respect human life and dignity, and proper stewardship of creation. Civil authorities, especially local authorities, have a duty to regulate the use of property for the common good and all citizens have a moral obligation to comply with proper regulations.

Finally, we are concerned about the possible effects of this bill. State Catholic conferences and dioceses around the nation, as well as the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, are very concerned about the growth of large concentrated animal feeding operations. These operations have threatened God's creation, disrupted communities, and endangered family farming. The states with the most problems are often the ones that have stripped local communities of their rightful role in regulating the operation of such facilities. We don't need those types of problems in North Dakota; we don't need House Bill 1397.